St. Albans Psalter

Mary Magdalene announces the Risen Christ

The St Albans Psalter, also known as the Albani Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Markyate, is an English illuminated manuscript, one of several Psalters known to have been created at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. It is widely considered to be one of the most important examples of English Romanesque book production: it is of almost unprecedented lavishness of decoration; it contains a number of iconographic innovations that would endure throughout the Middle Ages; it contains the earliest surviving example of French literature, the Chanson de St Alexis or Vie de St Alexis; and it was probably commissioned by an identifiable man and owned by an identifiable woman. Since the early 19th century it has been owned by the church of St Godehard, Hildesheim, but is now stored and administered at the nearby Dombibliothek (Cathedral Library). A single leaf from the manuscript is at the SchnĆ¼tgen Museum, Cologne; one further leaf, and one further cutting, are missing from the volume, their whereabouts unknown.


The manuscript is composed of five physically separable parts:

  • I. (Quire 1; pp. 1-16) Calendar and computistical material
  • II. (Quires 2-4; pp. 17-56) Series of full-page miniatures
  • III. (Quire 5; pp. 57-72) A quire containing:
    • a miniature and text of the Chanson de St Alexis,
    • Gregory the Great's defence of the use of images, in Latin and French translation,
    • three miniatures depicting the Gospel Emmaus story,
    • a drawing of two battling knights, with accompanying text, and
    • a Beatus initial, with accompanying text
  • IV. (Quires 6-23; pp. 73-414) Psalms, Canticles, Litany, and Collects
  • V. (part of Quire 23; pp. 415-418) A bifolium with two full-page miniatures (pp. 416-417) depicting the Martyrdom of St Alban, and King David with musicians

Date and origin

Scholarly opinion differs on many of the details, but there is general agreement that the Psalter was created at St Albans Abbey between circa 1120 and circa 1145, during the abbacy (1119-1146) of Geoffrey de Gorham or Gorron, and that it was probably owned by Christina of Markyate (born circa 1098, died perhaps between 1155 and 1166), anchoress and later prioress of Markyate.

If she did indeed own it, it is not clear whether the manuscript was intended for her from the beginning, whether it was adapted for her while it was being made, or whether it became hers after its completion. Recent research suggests that it was intended for her from the beginning. Additions were made to the manuscript at various times until after her death, which is recorded in the calendar.

Details of production

Within the accepted c.1120-c.1145 date-range, there is no firm scholarly consensus about the relative and absolute chronology of the creation of the five constituent parts. There are generally thought to be the work of at least six scribes and four artists in the volume, but there is disagreement about their identity, and who was responsible for what.

Published opinions until the 1960s were mostly that the manuscript was made before c.1125, or even before c.1123; this was modified in the 1980s to the decade c.1120-1130; while in the 1990s and 2000s several scholars have proposed dates in the 1130s. Attributions dating the manuscript to after 1145, or after 1155, have not gained general acceptance.

The main units of text are:

  • The main part of the calendar and computistical material (pp. 2-15)
  • Two further feasts, added to the calendar
  • A large number feasts and obits, added to the calendar
  • The outer bifolium of the first quire of the Psalms (pp. 73-74, 91-92)
  • The rest of the Psalms, Litany, etc.
  • The verse written on the pasted-in initial to Psalm 105 (p. 285)
  • The rubrics added in or next to most historiated initials
  • The obit of Roger the Hermit, added to the calendar
  • The texts of the quire containing the Chanson de St Alexis (pp. 57-72)

The last three listed are often said to have been written by the same scribe, identified by some as Abbot Geoffrey himself, giving a total of seven scribes. In addition, another 12th-century scribe corrected the text of the Psalms.

The main units of decoration are:

  • The calendar, with Labours of the Months in roundels, and the signs of the zodiac
  • The full-page fully-painted prefatory miniatures containing the Life of Christ in thirty-seven miniatures, and one of St Martin, preceded by two of Adam and Eve, and followed by one of King David
  • A 'diptych' of two full-page miniatures depicting the Martyrdom of St Alban, and King David with musicians
  • The Alexis quire, including the Psalm 1 initial
  • The pasted-in Psalm 105 initial
  • All the other historiated initials

The prefatory miniatures are usually said to be by the artist of the Alexis quire, the so-called Alexis Master The majority of the historiated initials are usually said to have been painted by two artists, one of whom was the artist of the calendar and the final 'diptych'.